By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
What’s more warming in the cooling fall months: A steaming-hot bowl of delicious homemade soup, or the knowledge that you’ve done something selfless for a person in need? A better question could be: Why not both?
With the annual Empty Bowls event benefi ting El Caldito Soup Kitchen rapidly approaching, Las Crucens won’t have to choose.
The 21st annual Empty Bowls will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 225 W. Griggs Ave., at the intersection with Alameda Boulevard. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door, and are available at a number of locations around Las Cruces, including Boudreau Jewelry, Cutter Gallery, El Caldito Soup Kitchen, Enchanted Gardens, Friendly Flowers, Hair & Body Shop, Mountain View Market, New Mexico Spanish Kitchen, Bernina Sewing & Design, Save Mart, Spirit Winds and the Potteries of Mesilla.
El Caldito started small, offering a midday meal twice a week at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in 1984, making 2013 its 30th year of operation. The soup kitchen continued to grow each year and was incorporated as a nonprofi t in 1993, and found its home in its present, city-owned building inside the Mesilla Valley Community of Hope campus at 999 W. Amador Ave. in 1998.
The impact El Caldito has had on those in Las Cruces who would otherwise go hungry cannot be overstated: more than 1 million meals have been served as of June, with that number increasing at a rate of more than 100,000 per year.
“The number of people who are homeless,near homeless and in need has grown,” said Donna Wood, volunteer coordinator for El Caldito. “From December 2009 to December 2012, we’ve gone from serving 60,000 meals in a year to serving 100,000 a year. In June of this year, we hit 1 million meals served.”
With seven-day-a-week service taking effect with the addition of Sunday lunches in 2011, El Caldito relies heavily on its more than 120 weekly volunteers who make its mission possible. With only two part-time employees, the tremendous impact El Caldito has had on the community is almost solely in the hands of its devoted volunteers, and in aiding their efforts, Empty Bowls is invaluable. “There’s such a growing need, and this is our major fundraiser,” Wood said. “The funds we raise with Empty Bowls goes to defray the cost of the food we have to purchase, as well as equipment and upkeep. It keeps us operating and serving those meals to the people who need them.” This year, more than 45 restaurants from around the area will donate soups to be served into more than 1,000 unique, handmade bowls. Dating back to 1993, the first Empty Bowls event in New Mexico was organized by members of the Potters Guild of Las Cruces working in conjunction with longtime partners at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. The first outing saw potters, both amateur and professional, make 600 bowls and raising $3,650 for El Caldito – and it has grown exponentially since.
As the primary annual fundraiser for El Caldito, Empty Bowls has seen members of the Potters Guild of Las Cruces join with community members to create more than 18,000 bowls, filled with soups and stews from local restaurants and sold to ticketholders, raisingmore than $260,000 for the nonprofit to date. At last year’s 20th anniversary Empty Bowls event, more than 1,500 bowls were made and $22,000 was raised.
“We’ll be making around 1,200 bowls this year that we have finished right now,” said Randy Summers, president of the Potters Guild of Las Cruces. “We have anywhere between 30 and 50 guild members, in addition to those who’ve invited all their friends. We’ve also had a few bowl-making days at the (Las Cruces) Museum of Art and New Mexico State University. The number of people who participate is in the hundreds.”
Aside from the bowls filled with comfort food, the Potters Guild will have other items available, with funds going to further the efforts of El Caldito.
“We have a few tables of bowls and artworks for people to bid on in a silent auction,” Summers said. “That’s always special and adds a bit of revenue. We will also be auctioning off a quilt made by the members of Las Colcheras, which we do every year, and that earns a good amount, too.”
For some, what sets apart Empty Bowls from other fundraisers and charitable events is its affordability on nearly any budget.
“It’s a lot of little things that add up to a really big payoff each year,” Summers said.
Not only will those who purchase a bowl have the pleasure of charitable giving, but they’ll also take home a one-of-a-kind, functional artwork – one that can remind us of the spirit of charity each and every time it’s used.
It keeps us operating and serving those meals to the people who need them.
DONNA WOOD, El Caldito volunteer coordinator